Ms. Ryberg moved to Saratoga Springs to live closer to her aging parents. But now she rarely sees them because they are at a higher risk of complications from Covid-19, and when she does see them, visits are short and distant. Instead, she spends her hours observing other people's social lives, like the mother of a girl in her daughter's scout troop who recently posted photos of a vacation at a lake house on Facebook. "She was up there and the kids were all hanging out together," she said. "I'm not very close to her or have no reason to feel left out, and it's not that I know her that well. But my kids are literally sitting here in our house just hanging out. That's it, that is all they ever do. "
Then there are the learning pods that turn the upcoming school year into a popularity contest organized by parents desperate for a solution to endless distance learning. These pods, some run by educators and some by parents, have been criticized because the by-only arrangements can benefit wealthier, better-connected families, who are often white and leave classmates who may be poorer, minority groups, special needs have or have trouble making friends.
"A child who was not selected to be in one of these pods has tremendous psychological stress to which they could be exposed," said Carla Pugliese, an educational advisor who has counseled parents in pods. “It's like not being invited to the birthday party.” I know I'm not in the in-group. What's wrong with me? & # 39; "
At a time when there are few opportunities for social interaction, it can sting not to be invited to the pandemic version of the birthday party. And it's not that we all had brilliant social lives before all of this. In January 2020, 61 percent of respondents to a Cigna survey felt lonely. While home work and social distancing practices didn't necessarily make things worse, according to a study published in American Psychologist magazine in June, they certainly didn't do any better. We have lost the everyday distractions – the small talk at the drop-off and pick-up point of the school, the jokes in the office, the often lengthy networking events.
"We were able to avoid the fact that we were lonely beforehand because we could be busy with a number of people," said Ms. Nelson. "This eliminates a lot of filler and gives us a chance to say, 'Wow, I really need to make sure I have a good support system and close friends and meaningful friends. "
To make those deeper connections, Marisa G. Franco, a friendship psychologist, suggests calling someone you know and want to see where the conversation is going – they can be lonely too. "People are so passive when it comes to friendship," she said. "We do not initiate." But the people who take the first step are happier, she said.
In other words, if no one invites you to a pod, make your own.
But here's the problem: in trying to avoid a potentially fatal virus, is a pod with people who aren't already your closest and dearest friends worth the risk? Ms. Ryberg has considered talking to other parents at her daughter's school about setting up a learning capsule. Her husband plans to leave his job in the fall to help the children with distance learning.